Waking up under a tarp, free of all the trappings of modern society, fresh air, the inspiring view. It’s why we bike pack to remote places isn’t it? To get away from it all. To enjoy our wonderful countryside and rolling green landscapes.
My phone buzzed to let me know I had a few messages and emails waiting. A fine drizzle was in the air and the first sight to great me was a fat arse backing out of a tent doorway, closely followed by a disheveled woman with hair like sideshow bob. I guess that’s my own fault for going on a campsite rather than some wild wooded glade.
The drizzle, however, was a little unexpected. When I had left home on Wednesday evening, the forecast looked good right through until Sunday. Possible intermittent showers, but otherwise good riding conditions.A quick check of my phone and it seemed that had long gone and was replaced with a big band of rain coming in all day Friday and until about 6pm on Saturday. Not such a great day ahead.
I lay in my sleeping bag for a while gazing up at the kelp coloured tarp overhead (kelp,being a kind of fancy word for dark green) contemplating the 70km ride to Llangurig. As the rain created that all familiar rhythmical drumming noise on the tarp, I decided not so far in the great scheme of things. Certainly not far in the dry. A bit far in the damp. A long far in the pissing rain. An hour later I got up in what appeared to be a slight let up in the rain, packed up with comical haste and said goodbye to my new camp mates and I was off.
For the fist two hours I had intermittent rain but had a positive feeling about the day ahead. As I rode out of Rhyadaer the first few km as easied by through a nice wooded area with good tree cover then onto some more open Moreland. Sheep continued to be a theme. Contemplating, I decided a bit of rain is ok, especially when it’s really warm . I made good progress and even passed my new camp mates at one point with a wave as they settled down to welcome their DoE charges that were amuraeding around the Welsh countryside. I had discussed an area of the trail with said camp mate and he had advised me that one section was pretty shite. Lots of flooding, no doubt now made worse by the overnight rain . A with all intrepid (amateur) explorers, I chose to ignore this. As I discovered, at my peril.
There is a CTC guide for the Trans Cambrian that mentions a Shit Bit (I paraphrase). It should be renamed the shit bit. I spent a disproportionate amount of my day wading through a bog. I went high and discovered so did the bog. After some rather comical and fruitless attempts to keep my feet dry, I gave up and trudged folornly through the bog, deciding that the only worthwhile activity was protecting the grease in my hubs and BB from the deep water. In hindsight, I should have cut this section. A shortcut was needed and I could have been onto the reservoir about an hour and half before I actually made it.
There is a rather nice little road climb up to the reservoir and I was met by some journalists from Europe doing a feature on the new Honda Trans Alp. We had a right chuckle at the fact that they usually did photo shoots under a warm and dry Spanish sun, not a dank and rainy Welsh hillside. One reassuring fact was they looked considerably more pissed off than me.
I crested the top of the road climb and was now met with the sight of the Dam wall in all of its glory. I eagerly looked out for the raft that apparently marks the spot where an RAF jet crashed. Couldn’t see it. I can only assume it met the same fate as the jet and has sunk. By this stage the rain was a continuous fine drizzle, and lowered visibility significantly. Older generations generally refer to it as “wet rain”. The trail would have been a hard pack slate type surface, but it had tyurned into a whitish/grey mud that covered everything. My Drivetrain started to grumble more and more as visibility and conditions deteriorated. My spirits also deteriorated. This wasn’t much fun, especially when a group of Enduro Riders buzzed me at about 35mph spraying me with more shite. The beach equivalent of having sand kicked in your face.
After the joys of tramping through a bog and then having my bike systematically destroyed by a slate paste, I decided that emergency measures were required. There was nothing else for it. PULL OUT THE ALL DAY BREAKFAST. Yes indeed. A boil in the bag all day breakfast was going to be my saviour. I found a likely looking sheltered spot, whipped out my MSR whisper lite stove, primed it by setting fire to a rock and the stove with an excess of fuel and then sought out some mountain water to fill up my Bru pot (having calculated I may not have enough fresh water in my camelback). Except I seemed to have picked a spot without and natural water. As I just ridden passed a reservoir that supplies water to the whole of the West Midlands and crossed numerous streams, the irony was not lost on me. After some serious scrabbling about I managed to get half a pot full from a dirty puddle.
The rejuvenating powers of the ADB hit hard. I set of with renewed vigour and this lasted a good ten minutes until the rain got heavier and we had some fog. I thought back to a time many years ago when I was new into a cycling club and one of the wizened old timers explained to me that riding into driving rain was “charatcter building”. I can only comment now that over the years my chartacter has been built enough and I no longer require it. Still, I consoled my self that there was a pub probably half an hour away and I could have the more refreshing and spirit raising “nice pint”.
Upon arriving at the pub after a rather hairy road descent, it was shut. Undeterred, a quick map check pointed to a pub at XXXXX. Upon arrival here, that pub was also shut. I think that’s was where my sense of humour finally failed.
I sat down in a bus shelter to shield my map from the drizzle and decided I had a three hour trek up to Llangurig where I could probably get some food and then find a spot to camp. This wasn’t appealing, given how wet the day had been, a night under a tarp started to feel less and less hospitable . Another weather check and it looked like the band of rain was steadily increasing, leading to some yellow and red spots over me on the satellite map through the night with further heavy rain through until 12pm when I would hopefully arrive at Dovey Junction. My alternative was to try and find a B&B or something similar and then resume the ride tomorrow. After phoning around numerous places I had an indication of the feeling Mary and Joseph allegedly had in the greatest work of fiction of all time.
My other option was to cut the ride short. Now it’s never a nice thing to do, to have a goal and to fail at it. To pack. But after far too many incidents of putting myself through misery in order to finish something I started, I decided I would ride to Devils bridge as it is “a bigger place” and find accommodation.
Upon arrival at Devils bridge I discovered in fact it is not a “bigger place”. It also does not have a pub that’s open in the afternoon when it’s pissing down. It does have a waterfall, that I didn’t bother to go and look at (let’s face it, I had been watching water fall for the best part of 7 hours already). It does have a rather nice steam train and more importantly a cafe where I could sit with a nice warm drink, some very friendly waitresses who phoned around local accommodation and who toasted me a bacon and tomato sandwich. No beer though.
Alas the came up rather short on accommodation. Nothing. After some deliberation, phone checking on weather and map readings, I deduced two options. Press on towards my original destination and get wet and camp outdoors. Properly quit and ride to Aberystwth, secure a hotel at whoever cost, shower go eat in a nice pub and rest up in a nice big bed with cotton sheets. And I leave you to decide which option I favoured.
So, as a I rolled into a non description hotel foyer, a sense of disappointment hit me. Not that I had quit, but that I hadn’t had good weather. Things are so much more fun when it’s dry. And day two of the ride will always be there to tackle another
More importantly the pub was OPEN.